I had no school when Brady wrote me that he would get me a school if I would come up there and teach. I told him okay. So he got me a school (I found out later that no one else would have it). I went two weeks early as Brady wanted me to dig an incubator cellar.
Poplar Ridge School: The school was ten miles from Sutton on the road to Centralia. Before I went up there, Brady said to me, “Dad, it’s a little school. You be real good to them, and you will get to teach it for years.” I went up there Sunday afternoon and found a house 22 ft. by 13 ft., not fit to keep chickens in. The seats were dilapidated, some broken down, others loose so they reeled back and forth, while some were fairly good. There were not nearly enough chairs for the children. The children told me later that they had been in the habit of running back and forth over the tops of the seats at noon and recess.
When I rang the bell Monday at 9 a.m., the children came running in like rabbits from a broom sedge field. They filled up the seats, two and three to a seat, and I started to classify them. I found two girls in the seventh grade, which was the highest grade the first winter. One of the girls would talk, but the other one would merely grin. I asked them if they could add, subtract, multiply and divide. The one said, “Yes, we can.” I told them to go to the board and gave them a fair-sized problem in addition. I stopped them when they began to count. The third time I stopped them, they said that was all they could do. I stepped to the board and showed them how to add. They said they couldn’t do it that way. I asked if any of the sixth or fifth grade could, and they said, “No.” Then I asked if any of the others could, and a third grade girl held up her hand. I called her up, and she could add very well. I asked her where she learned, and she said her mother taught her. She was a bright girl, and I had hopes for her. But her mother died that winter and her father was no good, so she had no chance.
After finding the girls couldn’t add, I tried them in subtraction. They could not borrow; they did not know the multiplication table; they could not divide. So I took them back and taught them the fundamentals. We got to the sixth grade at the end of the term. After about two months of the second term I told the girls if they would finish the sixth grade and half the seventh grade by the end of the term I would promote them so they could get their diplomas next year. Ada spoke up (she was the one who would talk) and said, “We ought to, Mr. Randolph. We did the second, third, fourth, and fifth last year; so we ought to do the sixth and seventh this year,” and they did.
After I had finished giving the seventh grade their assignments, I called up the other grades to find the most of them wouldn’t talk and were way behind in their grades.
Among the first graders was a boy of 11 who sat with his sister of 13, a nice bright girl. He did not come up with the other children, so I went back and talked to him at his seat. The same thing happened each time I called the class that day. The next day after the class recited, I went back and told him he must come up and recite. When I took hold of him to lead him up to class, he grabbed his sister’s waist. If I had tried to pull him loose, I would have torn her waist off. I told him he must let loose, and his sister took his hands loose. I took him up and heard him recite. He never came up to recite with the class all winter. When I called the class he was in, he would sit still. After they recited, I would call him. He would look in every direction, taking long, high steps as if he expected something to get him.
This boy lived in a deep hollow away from any road and didn’t see anybody. In fact, most of the people lived off the road in the head of some hollow. When I told Brady that I had 59 pupils, he said it was impossible. He had been along all the roads up there, and there were no houses up there. Then he asked, “Where do they come from?” My answer was, “From the head of every hollow, from every red brush patch, and from every broom sedge patch.” I wondered for a while as to why they built in the heads of the hollows. Then I thought of the reason. It was to get water without digging wells. I think that living in the hollows and hardly ever seeing anyone had much to do with their being like scared rabbits.
There were several families who were so poor that the children seldom had any shoes to wear and never went to school in the winter-just a little while in the fall. Several of them gloried in saying, “I’m too poor to send my children to school.” Oh, how I would have liked to kick them soundly!
These are mountain people who are very loyal to their friends but are bitter enemies. They had but little education (some could neither read nor write) and had been having very poor schools. The patrons and children had no interest in school. No one had ever gotten an eighth grade diploma. No one had ever received a certificate for attendance nor a report card. So there was not much reason for them to be interested in school.
There had been some lively times up there. The county superintendent (Mr. Golden) told me he sent the nicest kind of a little girl up there, and they took her out and set her down in a mud hole. I asked him why they didn’t take me out and put me down in a mud hole. He said he didn’t know. I did; they got the idea that I would skin them alive. Then I got them interested in learning, and I treated them nice so they were my friends. In fact, only two families got mad at me. One of these men died the second winter I taught, and I had the friendship of the family the rest of the time. The other one said the third winter I taught that I was all right and he would carry a petition around for me to teach the next winter if someone would write it. So you see, I had the good will of everybody when I left.
As would be natural in a backwoods place like this, there were several who were dull and came to school but little, and I could not interest them in education. But there were many bright children there. I could never have made a success of this school if I had not gotten them interested not only in getting a diploma from the eighth grade but also in going ahead to high school. But more of this later,
One of the large girls had caused a lot of trouble in school in the past. In fact, one evening as soon as school was out, she jumped on another girl, broke her glasses and beat up on her. She made her say “Enough” twice so the teacher would be sure to hear her; the teacher was a young man and never did anything about it. This girl started to school the second month I taught. One day I saw her write a note and start to pass it. I went back where she sat and just held out my hand without saying a word. She looked at me, and I continued to hold out my hand. She put the note in it, and I went back to the desk. I never said a word about it, for it was just a joke; but she expected a whipping every day for weeks. She never gave a bit of trouble.
It was a cold winter with deep snows. The school is on a high hill, so there was no ice to skate on. The children would fix a slick place and slide on it. They would run into each other and fall in the snow and get wet and cold. I told them they must go one at a time and not pile up in the snow. They just wouldn’t pay attention, so I told them they must not slide any more.
When I went after coal in the evening, I found they had made a slide and had been sliding. I told them that the juvenile judge of Denver was telling about having a Snitching Bee (that is, they were to tell on themselves), and that I would give those who were sliding till school time next morning to come and tell me about it. One of the big boys said to his chum, “Shall we own up?” The other said, “We had just as well. He will find out any way.”
Another boy told me he didn’t skate but he helped some of the others. In a few minutes he came back and said, “I lied to you, teacher; I did skate.” I asked him why he lied, and he said he thought maybe he could get out of it but he had decided I would find out.
Some of them tried to get out by denying it, but there was too much evidence against them. So I told about six or eight of them that they could not play any for a given time. This made Burb Skidmore very angry, for he said they lied on his boys. He never forgave me, but after his death his wife and children were good friends of mine.
A couple of boys were out for four weeks with whooping cough. When they came back, they brought third readers instead of second readers. I told the boys that I could not promote them as I had not promoted those who had been there all the time. This made their father mad, and he kept the boys at home the rest of the school. Two years later he got in a good humor and was as good a friend as I had up there, for which I was very thankful.
After I had taught a few weeks, I saw that the children had no place to go. I proposed that we have a spelling race some night. Ada spoke up (she was the seventh grade girl who would talk) and said, “‘We can’t do it, Mr. Randolph. They would come here drunk and break it up.” “Oh, I reckon they wouldn’t,” I replied. “Yes, they would,” she said. Then I said very firmly, “No, they won’t, and we will have a spelling race,”-and we did. After that we could have a program, singing or anything without any interruption in the house.
The school house, as I have mentioned before, was no good. When the wind blew, it would heave the west wall in, and the wind would come howling in. There was a hole in the floor a 12-year-old girl could put her foot through. They promised to furnish flooring to put over the old one, but Sell Skidmore, secretary of the board, got them not to furnish it. I had a better plan, so I let it go and kept the children warm by staying by the fire a lot in cold weather. About the middle of the winter I proposed we get a new school house.
They said it was no use as they had tried several times. I told them we could not only get a house, but a two-room house. I drew up a petition with a space for them to give the number of children of school age and another one to put down the number under school age. There proved to be over 80 of school age and about 30 under age. So we got a new house with two rooms, but a very poor one.
They got up a petition for me to teach the next winter, and everyone signed it but the two I mentioned before. Several of the patrons went down and forced them to give it to me after part of the board tried to slip in another teacher.
My Last Summer in Salem: The spring of 1926 I went back to Salem and spent the summer there, which was the last time I spent any time to amount to anything in Salem. I can remember but little about that summer, what I did, who I worked for, or if I got much work. I only know that I spent the summer at Salem and went back to Poplar Ridge to teach that winter.
Back to Poplar Ridge School: We had two rooms, and Miss Edna Barker was my assistant. I met her first at the Teachers’ Institute, which I believe was our last institute. I found her a fine girl, a good teacher and nice to work with. We both boarded at Dave Hosey’s, where I boarded the first winter. Things went nicely this winter. We had a new family, the Halls, with two girls in the eighth grade. The girls both got diplomas, which were the first ever received there.
Debate over Supplementary Readers: This winter I had trouble with the board of education over supplementary readers. They claimed I was teaching them and neglecting the text books. My pupils signed a statement that I had not heard a single class in any books but the regular text books. They, the board, also claimed it cost the patrons too much to buy the extra books, so I told them I was paying for the books myself. When Brady handed in my reply, one of the board members said it was a lie, that he knew that I had been hearing classes in those wicked books. Brady told him he thought he should be careful about calling all the larger scholars liars. After thinking a minute he said, “Maybe it was the other teacher.” When Brady told them I was paying for the books, he said, “That’s a lie. He only paid the postage on them.” Brady replied, “Dad says he paid for them, and he did.” Then he said, “Maybe it was last year I was thinking about.’
Some of the children took the books home when school was out instead of giving them back to me. One of them offered to sell the one he kept to Miss Barker for 55 cents. She asked me if that was a fair price. I told her, “No.” When I found who had it, I told her it was my book and she could have it for 35 cents. (It cost 70 cents.) I told her to tell him I said it was my book, and I sold it to her. When I told the school I was going to buy the books and loan them to the third grade, Ada spoke right up and said, “Mr. Randolph, you are too smart for them after all.” Ada was a very fine girl and a great friend of mine.
We had a very fine program at Christmas time. I helped in several of them. Several of the parents and young folks out of school helped. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves very much.
They got up a petition, and everyone signed for me to teach again. This time there was no trouble about my getting the school.
Summer at Brady’s: This summer I spent at Brady’s. I took care of a 2400 egg incubator, raised 400 white leghorns, also a very fine pig and a half acre of potatoes. The potatoes were not a success. Although I sprayed them four times, they blighted before they matured. The pig was hard to beat. I also trap nested a flock of Rhode Island Reds. Ten of these laid over 200 eggs each, and one laid 242, which was very good at that time. One of the Red pullets laid her first egg at 4 months and 24 days. We had raised these Reds by the all-mash formula, which we found started them to laying before they were of proper size. So we never tried this play again.
The Next School Year at Poplar Ridge: Again Miss Barker and I boarded at Dave Hosey’s. I got along very well with them, but Miss Barker had a lot of trouble with them. I think they thought Charlie (their boy) was paying too much attention to her. She told me she thought of him as a kid brother. They went to a dance one night together, and Dave’s [family] never forgave her. They told the neighbor they would never board her again, but they would board me. Dave went to the board and got them not to hire her again.
We had two programs this year. The first was at Thanksgiving, and the second was at Christmas. The second was very good. Two of the patrons had growled about our having them, so we had the last one to show them we could. One of the growlers was an old man of about 72 who had 6 children in school. When I asked him how he liked it, he said, “It was fine, just fine.” He was just tickled skinny. So many people will rave about what they know nothing about and will make no effort to find out about.
This was my third winter on Poplar Ridge. This spring Ada and Gladys Hosey received eighth grade diplomas, but neither of these went to high school. Later I will give an account of several who not only went to high school but got their diplomas.